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WASHINGTON — Former IRS official Lois Lerner cautioned her colleagues last year to be careful about what they put in e-mails because Congress might request them, according to newly disclosed e-mails.

Lerner, the official at the center of investigations into IRS targeting of political groups, also went so far as to ask an information technology staffer whether internal instant messages could be searched and retrieved in response to a congressional request. When the employee informed her that those messages were not automatically saved, Lerner responded with a one-word e-mail: "Perfect."

Lerner's caution about e-mail came in April 2013, two weeks after Treasury inspectors delivered a draft report finding that the IRS used inappropriate criteria to screen applications for tax exemptions by Tea Party groups. She has since resigned, and the Republican-led House of Representatives has held her in contempt for refusing to fully testify about the IRS handling of conservative groups.

At a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on Wednesday, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said he had no knowledge of the e-mail, which was turned over to congressional committees as part of their investigations.

Republicans on the committee said the e-mails proved that Lerner was deliberately trying to hide information from Congress. "We know Ms. Lerner is not being square with the American people," said Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio.

Congress is also investigating what happened to e-mails that were lost when Lerner's hard drive crashed in 2011. The Federal Records Act requires agencies to maintain e-mails, but technical limitations of the IRS e-mail system meant that employees were required to print out their e-mails to save them.

Lerner's attorney, William Taylor, said the investigation into Lerner's e-mails was "apparently a ‎useful diversion because the initial investigation has demonstrated no wrongdoing."

"The facts are that Ms. Lerner did not destroy any records subject to the Federal Records Act, she did ‎not cause the computer assigned to her to fail, and she made every effort to recover the files on the ‎computer," Taylor said.

Follow @gregorykorte on Twitter.

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